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Review: The Belko Experiment

Woke up feeling a bit under the weather. Nevertheless, I dragged myself out to the Times Square AMC to catch a screening of The Belko Experiment… mostly because I’d already paid for the ticket online (I’ll save my rant about assigned movie theater seating for another day).

From the handful of trailers I’d seen, the elevator pitch for Belko appeared to be “Battle Royale meets Cabin in the Woods,” and while I had little faith that the finished product would exceed those cult classics in quality, James Gunn’s screenwriting credit certainly grabbed my interest. I’m a big fan of the independently-produced genre deconstructions that the former live-action Scooby-Doo scribe (!) made during his post-Troma, pre-Marvel period, and although he didn’t direct this one himself, his distinctive voice rings loud and clear throughout every darkly humorous, blood-soaked minute of it.

The setup couldn’t be more straightforward: eighty Americans employed by the eponymous multinational company find themselves trapped inside of their remote, Bogota-based office building, ordered by a disembodied voice to slaughter roughly half their number by the end of the day, or else nobody’s walking out alive. But despite the simplicity of its premise and overall tongue-in-cheek tone, The Belko Experiment manages to craft a legitimately compelling study of human behavior. The mysterious overseer’s increasingly cruel commands force the desperate captives to gradually become more pragmatic—and, eventually, self-serving—as they struggle to survive… and, twisted as it sounds, it’s fascinating to see what finally motivates a staunch pacifist to abandon his morals and embrace his long repressed savagery and barbarism.

Fortunately, Gunn doesn’t overwhelm the viewer with depressing introspection, drawing just as much inspiration from Sam Raimi’s slapstick Evil Dead trilogy as he does from Philip Zimbardo’s real life Stanford prison experiment. In the hands of a less competent craftsman, the fruits of such a bizarre marriage of ideas might have suffered from an identity crisis. From the writer of Slither and Super, however, the result is yet another brilliant, offbeat, genre-bending/blending/busting mashup.

[Originally written March 18, 2017.]

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